Repurposing Materials: Sailcloth and Sustainability
One of my new favorite things is gear bags made of recycled, or rather repurposed sail cloth from a couple of our “sister sports” – windsurfing and kiteboarding.
Sails and kites can rip, and when they do, apparently, they are pretty much done. The material can be a bit heavy and cumbersome to recover and certainly dispose of. Often times, at worst, the unusable sail or kite cloth gets left on the shore somewhere or at best, ends up in a landfill. Neither are really great scenarios.
While that damaged material may not be suitable for its original intention, it’s still viable.
These two companies stand out as leading the way in helping those injured sails and kites become something “new” and cool and certainly utilitarian for paddlers, travelers, and anyone who wants to help increase sustainability and reduce waste.
Sailbags Maui is based, you guessed it, on the Valley Isle in Hawaii. In 2009, the idea for the company was born out of the realization that a lot of discarded sails and kites were ending up in the island’s landfill, where they would take years to decompose. Working with board makers like Naish, Sailbags Maui launched an effort to collect damaged or otherwise unwanted sails and turn them into duffle bags, clutches, and musette style messenger bags.
Similarly, but across the Pacific in Buenos Aires, Mafia Bags was getting its start. Kiteboarding brother and sister Marcos and Paz Mafia were looking for a better way to haul their wetsuits around, and realized that lots of old kites were just going to waste. In 2012, they opened their first retail store and now they are making and selling sturdy backpacks, duffels, tablet sleeves and wallets in three countries. Their US headquarters are in San Francisco.
Each of the bags made by both Mafia and Sailbags Maui are unique. Because of the colors and designs of sails and kites, no one bag is going to be exactly like another. While Sailbag Maui’s styles run to the more minimalist, the Mafia products can include features like laptop compartments and durable shoulder strap hardware. When you order a bag, you are actually choosing THE bag you will receive, and once you place your order, it disappears from the website.
I like using my Sailbags Maui musette bag when I travel. It’s very lightweight and can easily be tucked away inside my main suitcase. It makes a perfect beach tote or shopping bag (which is super handy in Hawaii, where plastic shopping bags are illegal.) I also have one of their duffels, which is great for the gym.
I got turned on to Mafia by Starboard Pro Zane Schweitzer who was carrying their new Deep Blue Bag when we met on the beach on Maui earlier this month. I commented on it and he told me that he had given them several of his old sails and that the bag he was carrying was actually made from one of them.
Mafia’s designs are a little more sophisticated than Sailbag’s and as I am used to hardware from the more technical gear world of backpacking, the straps on the Mafia bag I have, the W-Pack, seem a little wonky. But, it will make a decent enough everyday carry bag, or gym bag, or book bag. While they call it a medium sized backpack, at 13 liters it’s a little on the small side. Mafia’s 20L offering, the Discover, might be more functional in the long run. Carry loops on the bags are made from used climbing rope, which is also really cool.
What I really like from Mafia, though, is the tablet sleeve. It’s stiff and sturdy, and yet still lightweight. It has three built-in pen holders on the inside of the top flap, made out of repurposed neoprene. Likewise, Mafia’s wallets. Sharp looking, functional, and durable.
One thing that was super cool – when my package arrived from Mafia, instead of being filled with plastic or paper packing material, they used swatches of sailcloth, too small to be used in production. I was really struck by that!
Bags made out of billboard material are starting to catch on, but as a sailor and paddler, I am really drawn to the materials both these companies use. It’s that connection to the water. The products can be a little bit pricey, but to me, it’s an investment in making sure beaches are less littered and landfills less crowded. Ultimately, I’d like to be able to learn how to make things like this myself from my own cast-offs, but until then, it’s also nice knowing there is an option for donating them as well.